Finding strength in vulnerability – and motivation for recovery

Since I started this blog there has been a slight time lapse between writing and publishing – slight being a minor under-exaggeration.

True, I’ve been going through the very real struggle of grappling with technology and website building, being as totally technologically incompetent as I am…the logistics of this have been enough to drive me even more insane than I already feel.

But really, because I need to practice honesty, it’s been because the ED voice has been telling me that there’s nothing wrong with me, making me lie to myself so it could feed itself in the last few weeks.

“Eating disorders are not a choice. They creep up on you like the tiger hunting its prey, and before you know it they’ve pounced and locked you in their jaws.

And it’s been because of fear.

Why is it so hard to choose life????

I’ve never done anything like this before, preferring to guard the madness of my inner musings behind an armour of steel that, until this point, could not be broken.

But during that time lapse I talked of, thanks to some very wonderful people, the armour has started to crack to reveal the vulnerability I have fought to deny, and hide, and I feel broken.

To let myself be vulnerable then, exposing the rawness in such a public way, it makes me feel afraid. But acknowledging and confronting this fear feels like a step towards recovery, because after all, what are we trying to run from through our eating disorder if not the fear of feeling?

The truth is we’re all a little bit broken. We must learn to love the broken bits of ourselves – be gentle and emphatic with ourselves and others.

Karen Salmansohn

Being honest then… I am not even close to recovered.

I don’t know if you ever really can be fully recovered, because the eating disorder lives in your head and confronts you 3 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I’m not particularly underweight, though internally the Gremlin wreaks its havoc. My bones were becoming brittle with osteopenia by the time I was 16. Like the wings of a caged bird my heart flutters wildly beneath jutting ribs. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have a period.

This is the all too common tragedy of those living with eating disorders and why they have become an invisible epidemic – it’s a tiny percentage of people who are sufficiently underweight enough to qualify for treatment, so the rest of us spin ourselves the story that we are not sick enough.

And that’s the eating disorder talking, punishing us for just not being enough… And so we get sicker.

The following words may be familiar.

I have been stuck on a ferris wheel of eating disorders for two thirds of my life. Medically, I have been put into the box of anorexia, a label which makes me wince – most of the time I can’t even voice the word out loud.

Realistically, I cannot be boxed.

I have veered between severe food restriction, binging and purging, exercise until my body feels broken and endless days of solitude confined to my bed, with an unhealthy dose of booze and drugs thrown in along the way.

These years have also been punctuated with long periods of high functioning, living life, feeling well, and the Gremlin was growing smaller…until I relapsed over a year ago, and he somehow returned bigger and stronger than ever.

He took me back to a place I thought I would never experience again.

Since then I have been wavering along a tightrope of denial and acceptance of my illness, with distant dreams of reaching the other side, of wellness.

Though I have inched ever closer to that side from a year ago, before I get there the eating disorder beats me and pulls me back.

But this is about looking forward, to recovery. I want to choose life.

It’s a strange place to be in, to know – most of the time – that I am sick and need help, but to feel powerless to get there.

I have been, and still am, dancing the dance of ambivalence, swinging back and forth between wanting, needing, to get well, and being too afraid to.

My eating disorder wears me like a cloak.

Each time I shed it in a moment of clarity or a frenzy of fear – fear of the damage I have caused my body, fear of the dizziness and utter incomprehensibility of my mind, fear, ultimately, of death – another fear looms bigger and louder and stronger over me, and the hood comes back up and the cloak is pulled more tightly around me:

….the fear of giving up my eating disorder.

Of giving up something I have known for years, my reliable sidekick. Something which defines me, has become my identity, which has become ME, so that without it I would not know who I am.

Of giving up the only way I know to cope with emotions, pain, with darkness and trauma.

But also with emotions that overwhelm me so much that I don’t know what to do with them – with intimacy, kindness, acceptance, love from friends which my eating disorder tells me I don’t deserve.

This all sounds incredibly self-indulgent I know. Perhaps I need to indulge, just a little, to put onto paper the severity of it so that I can believe it. So that I can discover a purpose to my life beyond shrinking myself to be ever smaller. 

Eating disorders are not a choice.

They are cruel and unforgiving, a mental illness which can have devastating consequences.

They creep up on you like the tiger hunting its prey, and before you know it they’ve pounced and locked you in their jaws. The irony is that logically, you know this, but logical action evades you as the tiger tightens its grip on you.

I try to think when, how, I got caught but memory evades me. I do know that it wasn’t a conscious decision, I think one day I just couldn’t eat anymore. And suddenly I was lost to the ED cycle.

But this is not about looking back, grasping at grey memories.

This is about looking forward, to recovery.

Recovery then, that is all about choice.

You either choose it or you don’t. You either want it, or you don’t.

I’m not sure that I want it…enough.

I never wanted anorexia, never planned it, but suddenly it engulfed me and now I’m not sure that I’m ready to be rid of it…to shed my safety net and tread the tidal wave of pain and hurt that will surely drown me. I don’t want the number on the scale to increase, I don’t want to take up more space.

But I want life.

I want to reintegrate back into the world, to work, feel useful, to be a positive force.

I want to see colour in my cheeks and for my eyes to sparkle, to smile and laugh and mean it, to eat at restaurants without worrying about the menu…or what the bathrooms are like… to eat chocolate… and enjoy it…I’ve forgotten what that feels like. I’m not sure if I ever knew…

After a nurturing yoga and meditation class I took a long, windy walk on an empty beach. Soothed by the sounds of the sea and awed by nature’s power I was humbled. It reminded me how much I want life – how much I must find motivation to choose recovery. I thought I needed to remember that moment.

To want to live but not to want to recover is an incompatible equation then. It reflects the conflicts and contradictions of the disease, the myriad voices within me.

Perhaps just embarking on this journey will help me to solve it.

I know yoga alone is not the panacea, which is why I’ve been in therapy for months and I’m still looking for more options.

I know it’s a choice I’m going to have to face, and make positively, every day, with every mouthful of food. The choice I’m struggling to make right now.

But I hope that by cultivating a daily yoga practice, rediscovering my creativity, finding strength in sharing my struggle, will help that choice to become a little easier.

That I will find the motivation for a real, honest recovery.

I need at least to try.

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